Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The black veil

Michael Fong
English 48A
Journal #3 Nathaniel Hawthorne
October 5, 2009

"'Why do you tremble at me alone?' cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. 'Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made the piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and lo! on every visage a black veil!" (Hawthorne 1320)

"I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth, the ... jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts." (Sophia Hawthorne, Wikipedia)

Father Hooper's seemingly stubborn persistance in wearing his black veil did not waver nor sway even in the face of death. With his dying breath, he questions the spectators as to why did they only focus on the black veil upon his face, but not the black veils that they had on themselves.

Given the setting of Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil", I would say that this story definitely carries a subtle biblical undertone to it. There was a tale told in the New Testament about a woman who was condemned to be stoned to death because of a sin that she committed. The angry mob was about hurl their stones at her, when Jesus stepped in, and invited all of those who have not sinned to stone the woman to death. One by one, the people left, knowing with a guilty conscience that each and every one of them had sinned in their lives.

The primary message of this particular tale is to remind people not to be ignorant of their own flaws and merely focus on those of the others. Within a Christian context, every man is a sinner. A similar point here, I would say, is being made by Hawthorne. Father Hooper acknowledges his own sin or shortcoming with his wearing of the veil. His relatively high social rank combined with his occupation could be Hawthorne's own way of saying that even the noblest of us may have, one way or the other, committed a sin at some point in his or her life. While literal stones are not thrown at Father Hooper, stones of doubt, shock, and pity are constantly hurled in his way from the moment he wore the veil in public. His dying words echo the message within the Bible; in a way, he accuses the onlookers of their own ignorance, and that they all are wearing the black veil, a metaphorical representation of, in my opinion, sin and evil.

Like Sophia Hawthorne, I really am quite amazed by the execution of this story; the power in which it has through the exploration of human nature through sheer simplicity. The creation of the character Father Hooper by Hawthorne is a brutal but real reminder of the endless counts of evil within the society. Hawthorne wishes to shed the "veil" that clouds us in the perception of ourselves, and see the "veil" of sins that we are actually hiding behind but unaware of.

1 comment:

  1. 20 points. "...in a way, he accuses the onlookers of their own ignorance." I agree.